April 18, 2012 – Cedar Strip Canoe Finds a Home

Today, the watercraft fleet had a welcome addition when this red cedar strip canoe found a new home.

cedar strip canoe on subaru outback

The canoe was sitting lonely in a farm shed somewhere in Jasper county.  She hadn’t been in the water for over a decade and we were lucky enough to be picked as her new home.

cedar strip canoe

Shes’ 18′ long and was made in the late 80′s with western red cedar and not seen much water since then.

Despite this annoying imperfection in the hull, a good refinishing should take care of this stain on an otherwise serviceable canoe!

September 20, 2010 – Honey Extraction Day

Today was a big day at high hopes – honey extraction day! It was a rough year for beekeeping. We have three hives. Two of the hives were new this spring, so first year’s don’t often produce to much as they have to get organized and numbers bred up. The other hive swarmed, so lost some worker bees as well. Then, with the wet weather, it was hard for the bees to get out.

I missed Linda retrieving the supers from the hive – but here they are in the back of Sube. The idea is to get the supers during the day when many of the bees are out foraging. Then, you need to protect the stolen supers from the hive as they will try to retrieve the honey and the supers will be surrounded by an angry swarm. So, they are locked in the back of the car.

remove honey frames

Extracting is best done in a hot environment. The high today was 90 degrees, so the honey was warm and would flow easily. In addition, I turned on the propane heater in the garage to keep it warm after the sun went down. Since the garage is not bee proof, we wait until after dark and the bees are all back in the hive after sunset. Here Linda removes some frames from the supers. (No we are not on the payroll of the Ely, MN chamber as the car bumper sticker and Linda’s shirt may suggest.)

honey frame

Here’s a blue-ribbon frame – full and robust.

uncapping honey

Worth its weight in gold is the electric uncapping knife to slice off the wax caps from the comb.

Here’s a really angry-looking guy spinning the manual extractor. The spinning of the extractor slings the honey out of the frames. Spin for a bit and them turn the frames around and spin again.  He must have known that the next morning would bring aches of muscles usually not used!

Martin guards the honey gate at the bottom of the extractor.

The honey filters through three filters – a coarse mesh filter and a finely-woven fabric supported by another metal filter.

Finally, the honey safely tucked in jars. We ended up with about 10 gallons in total! The honey this year was very amber. That color is not what is typically is commercially available, despite the fact that dark amber honey has up to 20 times the anti-oxidants of run-of-the-mill commercial light honey.

one year ago…”Inaugural Chicken Butchering”

June 25, 2010 – Cherries to Food

It’s time to “do something” with the cherries. First thing is to pit them.

Pitting is the worst part of the job, but we added another pitter, so two people can work at once. At this moment it doesn’t look like the kids were suffering too much! These cherries are destined for jam and cherry pie filling.  I’ve come to love eating them off the tree, the sweet and tart must just be all full of great healthy compounds!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #168″

February 7, 2009 – New Hay Feeder

Another accoutrement that we now need is a hay feeder.  Now that the weather has warmed to the upper 40′s, it’s possible to get outside and do stuff.

I copied this design from a photo in a sheep raising book, except I added the hardware cloth bottom and wheels, and made it a bit taller than designed, hoping goats wouldn’t jump on top of it.  I much prefer rolling heavy items than lifting them.  I made the framing out of AC2 lumber, but used cedar for the slats on the bottom and top, not wanting the hay to have that much contact with the chemically treated boards.

We used a design feature suggested by Martin.  I was trying to figure out a quick and dirty way to keep the hinged lid open when loading hay and Martin suggested a small block that’s attached with a wire that goes in the hinge to keep it open.

one year ago…”Thingamajig #106″

October 28, 2008 – Soap Cutting

It was another round of soap-making this week-end.  I thought it would be a good time to show the final stages of soap making.

About 12 hours after pouring into the mold, this batch was ready to cut.  You can tell when it is ready when the soap barely indents to a strong touch.

The soap mold has fold-away hinges and here’s what the mold looks like after the mold is collapsed.

After the plastic film is removed, the soap goes back in the mold and is cut into bars.

The soap must “cure” for 4-6 weeks before the chemical reaction is complete.  We’ve noticed our soap is like a fine wine – the longer it sits, the better it gets – we found some year-old stuff and it was even better than the new stuff.

one year ago…”Rare Breed Chickens – Silver Campine”.

September 26, 2008 – Stainless Steel Milk Cans

I was in Marshalltown shuttling kids and had about 45 minutes to kill, so I stopped in at a couple of garage sales.

I found these stainless steel milk jugs shoved under a table of clothes.  I didn’t hesitate too long before buying them for 5 bucks each.  When I got home and did a search on Ebay I found one that still had a day left on the auction and was already up to $77.00.  I’ll have to decide if I can really use them or list them for sale next spring.

one year ago…”Family Homecoming Royalty”.

July 21, 2008 – Red Green Alive and Well at High Hopes!

Today’s creation is inspired by Handyman’s Corner from the Red Green TV show.


To many of you, this might look like an old, tired gas grill that missed trips to the dump over the last two years. But sometimes keeping things around too long pays off. We also have an old cooktop from the kitchen remodeling that is usable, but awkward to carry and safely use. We also like to can outside in the summer – nothing like taking the hour long boil of a batch of tomatoes outside the house on a hot summer day. Sooooo, I’m thinking the two units need to be combined…


First remove the cover and all the old propane connections and tubing.


Hmm, after the cover is gone, it turns out the cooktop won’t slide inside, so I need to get the sawz-all out with the metal blade to make the frame relatively level. Then, slip a couple of boards in where the grates used to be, screw the cooktop into the boards and the unit is almost ready.


Here’s the completed unit! Note that the duct tape concealing the joint between the cooktop and old grill is for aesthetics only – it does not provide structural support in this case.  Now we have a portable unit with wheels, a self-contained and hidden propane tank and a battery of knobs that to the untrained eye, do absolutely nothing – but I’m wondering if I could wire them to the controls of a radio and use the grill knobs for tuning and volume of a hidden radio…

one year ago…”Harry Potter and the Dilly Beans”

May 2, 2008 – Up and Coming Materials Engineer?

I was in and out of the workshop this afternoon and when I returned one time, Martin had a piece of wood in the bench vice and was trying to turn it to observe, and ultimately try to break the wood. Dad counseled him that it is indeed important work, that we should try different kinds of materials, but that we should also wear some goggles in case a piece flew towards his eye.

So, he tried odd pieces of things from the garbage – vinyl, wood, sticks and watched deformation and shear at work!

one year ago…”Tree Mulching”

April 19, 2008 – Moving Fence

After another rainy week, it’s important to keep moving ahead, even though the saturated ground prevents us from getting the new trees and grapes in the ground. So today, we moved a fence to enlarge an exclosure in the pasture to accommodate the trees, even though we can’t plant them yet. With saturated ground, it was easy to pull and set the fence posts. It was foggy and drizzly in the morning, but stayed relatively dry in the afternoon.

Linda’s working with the post puller. This is one of my favorite pieces of equipment – it’s easy to use, virtually indestructible, and hard to lose! Since we don’t have much land to play with, we’ve opted to use cattle panels for much of the interior flexible fencing. We like the ease of installation and don’t have a lot of permanent fences, except the property boundaries, so even though it is more expensive initially, we never bought too much at a time, so the extra expense is worth it to us in ease of installation and flexibility.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #68″

April 8, 2008 – In the Bag

I have another scrounging success story.  I saw bags like this giant bulk bag outside a local feed mill.  It looked like they were throwing them away.  They were, so I picked up a few.  I think they are called spout bags.  These bags carried one ton of dried whey.

You may notice the round cut-out on the bottom of the bag – there is a sleeve that a sheet of hard black plastic slips into, as to regulate product pouring out of the bottom of the bag (or not, if it remains closed).  The bags have heavy duty straps on top (after all, the bag held 2,000 pounds of whey) and a couple of straps and fabric to enclose the tops of the bags.  They are envisioned to be used for storing the corn cobs we have lying around and they’ll be good to store and transport wood chips for future tree planting.  All I need are a couple of forks to attach to the loader bucket and I’ll be able to easily move them.  The price is right!
one year ago…”Easter Day”

March 15, 2008 – Maple Sugaring

Today we had a bit of a treat with an introduction to maple sugaring at Morning Sun Farm.  It looks like I’m following the sugar – a few weeks ago we walked through a sugar cane plant, now through maple syruping in Iowa.


Here the “Sapmaster” and one of his daughters check on the sap flow.  The sap flows best on days that are above freezing and nights that are below freezing.


Trees are tapped in a path throughout the woods.  The buckets (in this case milk jugs) collect the sap until the collectors come around.


Here’s a picture of a tap in a tree – if you look closely, you can see a drop near the edge.


Here Martin pounds a tap into a tree.


Here Martin pours sap from a tree that has been previously tapped into the bucket for transport.


This bucket is about 3/4 full of fresh sap.  I was amazed how crystal clear the sap is.


This is an old bulk tank salvaged from a defunct dairy used as a holding tank after the sap is collected, but before it is boiled.


Here is the sap boiling in the evaporation trays.


The sapmaster with his homemade boiler – consisting of an old fuel oil tank and other parts cobbled together.  He’s leaning on the cover that goes on the top.  You may also notice the scaffolding that he uses to support wind block in the case of strong, cold winds.  It is entirely wood-fired and about 8 gallons an hour evaporate.

Since the season is just beginning, I don’t have any photos of the next part of the process, nor the end product, but we have been able to put our stamp of approval on the final product in years past.

one year ago…”Red House Records Night at SXSW”

February 22, 2008 – Organic Farm Tour/Wal-Mart Brokers

Our first tour was to an organic farm.  The farm was located up in the mountains outside of San Jose, the capital city.


The man in the white hat is the farm operator and the woman is the daughter of one of the professors at the University of Costa Rica who came along as the interpreter.  Here Alvaro discusses his composting/soil fertility system.


There is a commercial potato farm across the road from Alvaro’s farm that struggles with pest and disease problems, requiring many applications of fungicides and insecticides.  Alvaro’s potatoes do not suffer the same problems and his explanation is the soil characteristics and the potato variety.


Here is an intercropping of carrots and radishes in one of his diversified beds.


Farming on a slope in a place that receives 120 inches of rain a year requires some ingenuity.  He digs these holes throughout his farm along natural drainages.  They receive water during rains and if the erosion starts moving soil, the holes catch the soil so it doesn’t leave his farm


Alvaro had many scarecrows to try to frighten off birds.  Here’s one that give the illusion of movement.


Here’s one wearing a cap from Iowa State! That should be good enough to scare any pest away!


Alvaro also uses vermiculture to help break down organic materials and improve his soil.  He piles up weeds and wast organic matter in the field and seeds them with the vermicomposting worms to break down the piles faster.  Here we are admiring a sample of the worms and the powerful castings.


Alvaro is very much an innovator. Here is a drainage that comes from his pig pen to an inlet pipe.  The interpreter used a kind word to describe the animal manure.  She said “the dump from the animal.”  Alvaro has recently been convinced that his system would not work nearly an well without animals as part of his system.


The dump goes to what he calls his artificial intestine, a makeshift methane digester.  He made this system for less than $100.  The slurry goes into the digester, there’s a relief valve for the methane and a water lock for the liquids leaving the bladder.  He pipes the methane to a stove that he uses to dry things in a nearby shed.  He hopes to someday build his house here and use the methane for the cookstove in his house.  Again, a really neat low-tech solution to making nearly free energy from a waste product in most modern non-integrated production systems.


Finally, he didn’t let us go without providing the 22 of us with lunch!

The second half of the day we visited a fruit broker that was recently purchased by Wal-Mart.  We visited the warehouse where the farmers dropped off the products and they were routed to trucks.  We were not allowed to take photos, had to take off all our jewelry, including rings, earrings, and the like.  The warehouse was essentially a building with loading docks on both sides full of crates of products in the middle.  They were happy to take many pictures of us (although we were forbidden to do likewise).

The owners were very proud that Wal-Mart purchased them, but their formula for offering farmers credit to expand, offering growing assistance, and cornering their market sounded a lot like business from colonial days on forward – get farmers in debt, become the primary source of information, and control access to markets.  The farmers in this system even have to buy and package the products.  So, if you are a potato farmer, you have to bring all the potatoes already weighed, cleaned, and bagged in the retail containers/bags and purchase all the packing materials and handling equipment.  The morning and afternoon could not have demonstrated a bigger contrast in growing and distribution systems.  Interestingly, the organic farm was the most popular visit for most of the trip participants.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #62

February 12, 2008 – Mystery Package

Everyone, including the delivery driver, didn’t know what to expect in this 6 foot high package that was dropped off while I was at work.


Even though it was about 6 feet tall, the shipping charge was only $10.16.  The family is never too sure what might be in the mail at high hopes.


Mystery revealed – some tubex tree shelters and bamboo stakes – all at what I thought was very reasonable prices – a buck each for the tree shelters in packages of 5 that are usually $2.50-$3.50 each and the bamboo stakes were 6 foot for $0.30 each.  They’ll be used for something – perhaps a trellis or something else – it will just be good to have some around.  Thanks to Ray’s Supply Company for the quick delivery as well.

one year ago…”SXSW Draws Near”

October 2, 2007 – Chelsea the Mini Horse in Permanent Home

This week the kids (even Martin) worked hard getting the rest of the corn cobs out of the horse stall. It became a bit more imperative as I want to start working on the hog barn soon and can’t when she was in there for temporary lodging. So I whipped up this gate to fit the odd size of the stall.


We thought it was a nice big space,but she promply ripped the gate hinge out of the wood. So, a sturdier design and she seems to have calmed down and is starting to make it home.

one year ago…